Children and families beat: Tighter child-care ratios off the table

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2012 - 7:13 PM

A controversial idea for improving safety in Minnesota's home day cares - cutting the number of kids that providers can watch - is off the table for now.

In August, the state's Child Mortality Review Panel suggested reducing child-to-teacher ratios to increase supervision in licensed family day cares and to reduce infant deaths. (More than 80 children have died in licensed homes since 2002, and the annual number is rising.)

But officials with the Minnesota Department of Human Services indicated recently that they will not pursue that reform in the upcoming legislative session, and will focus on other changes in training and supervision to improve safety.

"We have already ruled out the significant ratio and capacity changes that were recommended," said Jerry Kerber, DHS' inspector general, in an e-mail to a concerned provider.

Among the reforms proposed by the mortality review panel, cutting ratios alarmed providers the most. With fewer children, the decline in revenues would drive them out of business, they argued.

In the Oct. 25 e-mail that generated Kerber's response, East Grand Forks provider Danielle Brundin said she "might as well work at McDonalds" because it would pay more than working as a provider with the lower ratios.

Minnesota generally allows single providers to watch eight preschoolers (including two infants) or 10 preschoolers (with one infant). The review panel endorsed national guidelines which cap ratios at one provider per six kids if any are infants.

Day-care providers in other states operate with lower ratios, but Minnesota officials worried that a preoccupation with this proposal would obstruct progress on other reforms. They particularly wanted to withdraw the idea before public meetings with providers: Nov. 26 in St. Cloud, Nov. 27 in Rochester and Nov. 29 in St. Paul.

The concession is significant, though. The Star Tribune's investigation of child-care safety found several deaths in overcrowded homes. A national study estimated that 11 percent of child-care deaths occur in homes where providers are watching too many kids.

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